BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – Columbine.
Mass-shooting locations read off with chilling familiarity.
Missing and almost forgotten among the communities that have suffered through the bloodshed is Binghamton.
What factors may have led many to forget the ACA shooting
Not that the community wants to be solely identified by its own active shooter at an immigrant center that claimed the life of 13 victims 10 years ago.
But with each subsequent mass shooting, it seems the shocking incident at the American Civic Association that gripped this community in fear and mourning on a rainy and chilly Friday morning fades further from the nation’s collective memory, creating a double tragedy for the innocent, many of whom were foreign nationals in an English class.
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“The narrative of the story did not resonate with the mainstream,” said Angie Chuang, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who has studied the media reaction to Binghamton’s mass murder. “It was very much a perception of immigrants killing other immigrants.”
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Eleven of the 13 victims were from distant locales – China, Haiti and Iraq among them. Many of the mourning relatives were out of reach for media interviews in the days after the shooting. Days after the scene was wiped clean, so was the searing impact of what was then one of the deadliest mass shootings in America – at least, in the eyes of the nation.
“I know a lot was said, maybe because they were immigrants, people didn’t care as much,” said Dr. Jeffrey King, son of Roberta “Bobbie” King, the beloved teacher who was targeted in the English as a second language class. “I’m not so sure about that. I think it got diluted down as well because all of a sudden, (mass shootings) were happening every several months almost, a couple a year.”
The American Civic Association mass shooting was the seventh-deadliest such incident in recent U.S. history at the time, tied with Columbine High School. Today, it is the 13th deadliest mass shooting.
Each time a mass shooting occurs, media and politicians tick off a list of previous deadly killings, using shorthand like “Parkland” and “Aurora” to represent the horrors that occurred there. Binghamton is nearly always left off that list. The slight has mostly gone unnoticed beyond Binghamton, with one notable exception: Four years ago, The Boston Globe ran a front-page story headlined, “The deadliest mass shooting everyone forgot.”
“In response to the shootings in San Bernardino, the New York Times published a historic op-ed titled “End The Gun Epidemic In America” on its front page. It referenced, among others, the mass shootings in Colorado, Oregon and Charleston. It made no mention of Binghamton. Neither did editorials on gun violence in the Washington Post, L.A. Times and other major outlets,” the Boston Globe writer observed.
Memories last long in Binghamton. The lives lost still bring a collective sting to longtime residents and relatives.
“At first, we started to realize, a few years out, after more and more shootings, all these articles were (saying) ‘Oh, Columbine’ then Virginia Tech and Fort Hood and all this and we’re like, ‘Wow, where are we?,'” King said. “We were one of the largest massacres at the time, you know – 13 people killed and others injured. And it actually really was very insulting, I mean, I was furious.”
Barely 24 hours after shots rang out on April 3, 2009, at the American Civic Association, a horde of national media descended on Binghamton to cover one of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings.
How the news may have influenced what’s remembered
National television networks and media outlets sprang into action, dispatching crews to bring news of the latest shooting tragedy to their viewers and readers. All the biggies were there: ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN. “Today” reporters set up a temporary canopy just across the street from the immigrant center to update its audience on the latest developments on the morning after the shooting. Random residents were plucked off the street for reaction.
A crush of media attended the day-after news conference at City Hall, where then-Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan spoke about the tragedy and Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski described the ugly scene.
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Within a few days, the media gaggle dispersed, moving on to other stories. Out of the spotlight, Binghamton’s hurt became just one of several.
“The bigger issue is that outside the central New York area, Binghamton was never a high news draw,” said Jaclyn Schildkraut, an assistant professor of public justice at the State University of New York at Oswego who studies mass shootings.
For America, the killings had become all too commonplace. The media’s mass-shooting drill was well-oiled. In the 10 years prior, there had been 13 mass shootings – Columbine and Virginia Tech among them – across the nation, claiming the lives of 116 and injuring 105.
If Binghamton didn’t become eclipsed because of its size, then why?
Since Binghamton, there have been 26 more active shooter incidents in America. The death toll, 281; injured 243. Several of those locations stand out, too: Tuscon, San Bernardino, Orlando, Fort Hood, Newtown and Charleston.
Binghamton has become little more than a footnote.
“These were poor immigrants in a poor town that had a Rust Belt vibe,” said Chuang, trying to explain why the memory of Binghamton’s tragedy has faded. “These were people that were affected – they’ve dealt with hardship before.”
Once the immediacy of the tragedy fades, so does the collective attention of the American public.
“It’s very easy for society to turn a blind eye because it’s not their community,” Schildkraut said.
After a decade, Zikuski is at a loss to explain how the American Civic Association seemingly became forgotten in the national conversation of mass shootings.
When looking at other shootings, back to Columbine, it’s not as though Binghamton became eclipsed because of its size or even the number of victims.
“Do I agree with that? Yes, I do, it is sort of like the ‘forgotten massacre,’ ” Zikuski said. “Not that we want to be known for this – this is one of the most tragic things that’s happened in this community.”
Zikuski said he hopes the fact that the American Civic Association involved an immigrant population didn’t push it out of the national spotlight. But, he said, that’s seemingly the most obvious explanation.
But perhaps more important than being ranked among the nation’s mass shootings is being known for how the community healed, he said.
“I think this community took it hard, so I certainly don’t think it was any less tragic because of who got shot,” Zikuski said. “Nobody wants to be known for what happened here, but they don’t want it forgotten. People want people to know this community pulled together.”
Contributing: Anthony Borrelli, Maggie Gilroy and Natasha Vaughn, (Binghamton, N.Y._ Press & Sun-Bulletin. Follow Jeff Platsky on Twitter: @JeffPlatsky
In footage from 2009 and interviews in 2019, those affected by a deadly shooting at the American Civic Association reflect on the gravity of the event.
Nate Chute, USA Today Network
Editor’s note: Though the identity of the man who killed 13 people at the American Civic Association in 2009 is public record and has been widely circulated, the Press & Sun-Bulletin has chosen not to include his name or likeness here.
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